Revisiting Operation New Hope – Radio Re:Visit
By Alina Kodatt
Operation New Hope is such an incredible organization and has even become a national model for solving recidivism challenges. It was originally explored in our episode, Jacksonville – The Bold New City of the South? – and SOTRU guest contributor, Alina Kodatt, caught up with the organization’s founder, Kevin Gay, last December to see what had changed for them since the episode. We want to be sure that you didn’t miss it! Additionally, we will soon be starting a new feature on our website called Radio Re:Visit. It will highlight some of the people and organizations that were part of our radio episodes, so that we can get a sense for where they are now and if anything has changed since we last spoke.
Below is Alina’s conversation with Kevin that we originally published on 12.06.10:
In State of the Re:Union’s third pilot episode, Al Letson explored his hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. In that episode Al introduced readers to Operation New Hope (ONH), an organization located in the historic downtown neighborhood of Springfield. Focused on bringing hope to ex-offenders through employment and rebuilding dilapidated homes in the community, ONH has received national attention for their model of bringing help and hope to their community. We were so inspired by their story the first time around that we recently caught up with ONH director Kevin Gay to get an update on their efforts.
SOTRU: Hi, Kevin. What is the impact ONH is having on Springfield? How are you seeing ONH bring the Springfield community together?
KG: Operation New Hope’s tangible impact on the Springfield community is seen through the 43 homes it’s restored, with an additional 32 homes on the Eastside. A humanitarian impact can be seen through the hundreds of ex-offenders lives that have been restored through our Ready4Work reentry program. Through a partnership with almost 150 Jacksonville businesses, we have been able to secure gainful employment for many Springfield residents.
As an organization anchored in Springfield, Operation New Hope provides a bridge for those struggling with existence on the outskirts of the community with those vested in the community. Its efforts and programs have reduced recidivism rates while taking initiatives to strengthen the community at-large – We also helped launch a community garden in Springfield, located at the corner of Laura and 4th.
KG: The programs offered by Operation New Hope are designed to increase participants self confidence, skill set and employability, translating to reduced rates of recidivism. Impact on the surrounding area is seen through increased job placement, decreased expenditures for the city and taxpayer, bringing a renewed sense of being for those individuals participating and living throughout Jacksonville and North Florida.
SOTRU: In the episode, staff member Leroy Mervin Jr. indicated the two biggest challenges faces ex-offenders are a place to stay, and fitting into society. How has ONH continued to help ex-offenders overcome these challenges?
1 — Housing: Operation New Hope, while unable to provide direct housing for its participants, provides listings of organizations that offer transitional housing and assistance.
2 – Fitting into Society: For many ex-offenders, fitting into society begins with building social skills and a belief in their own capabilities. Participants are shown, most often through example, of how fitting in comes from portraying a positive self image, believing in the possible, and taking initiative helps ingratiate a community. For many the external image begins with clothing. Operation New Hope provides both professional and personal attire, helping ex-offenders move into a better state of mind, allowing for more positive first impressions. By helping them build a better external image, they are able to build and showcase the internal image and shed the label of reformed or ex-offender.
KG: The Business Development team has increased its outreach to new industries, expanding the scope of Operation New Hope’s partnerships to include Allied Plastics, Blade Busters landscaping), Jiffy Lube, McDonalds, and Orange Park Medical Center. Despite current economic trends and increased competition within the available job market, Operation New Hope continues to place participants into the Jacksonville workforce regularly. Partnerships with community organizations such as Dignity U Wear and Suited for Success play an active role in the ability to place qualified individuals with hiring organizations.
SOTRU: Can you share a success story of an ex-offender who has, through the help of ONH and Ready 4 Work, transitioned back into the mainstream society? Or can you share the success story of an employer who hired an ex-offender and how the experience has changed their view on ex-offenders in the workplace?
KG: In December 2009, an African-American woman, in her mid-thirties, joined the Ready4Work program. Having served a year and a half long sentence, she wanted to remove herself from past misgivings and take hold of the second chance set in her path. Her journey back into society began with her enrollment in Operation New Hope’s employability skills course and partnership with an assigned case manager. With several months of hard work in place, the Read4Work staff secured her an interview from which she received a temporary administrative position with the City of Jacksonville. Legislation had only recently passed allowing ex-offenders to be considered for employment with the city. It was a major victory for her, and even though the position was marked as temporary she intended to gain everything possible from the opportunity. Her efforts and performance did not pass without notice; she soon was offered a permanent, full-time position, benefits included.
Measuring success can vary greatly, dependent on the scenario, but for Operation New Hope this is one of the many labeled as a grand success in the Bold New City of the South.
SOTRU: Where do you see ONH in five years?
KG: Recognized as a national model for prisoner reentry, Operation New Hope is poised to move beyond the borders of North Florida and Jacksonville. And having proven the model on several levels, the efforts are currently being mapped and quantified, with the intent of replication. Within five years Operation New Hope intends to extend its knowledge and assistance to several other cities.
SOTRU: Thank you for answering these, Kevin. Are there any other updates you would like to share?
- Recently acquired the Historic Klutho building in which the Ready4Work program and Operation New Hope offices are housed.
- Recent visit from Florida Lieutenant Governor Jeff Kottcamp. Introducing a vocational training center within Baker County’s re-entry correctional facility.
What organizations are making a difference in your community? Are there movements to address recidivism? Please start the conversation by commenting below.
You can listen to SOTRU’s original piece about Operation New Hope in the Jacksonville episode, Jacksonville: Bold New City of the South?